Sub-continent scores, both on and off the field

April 1st, 2011 - 8:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, April 1 (IANS) After years of dominating cricket commerce, the sub-continent extended its might to the 22-yard strip and re-energised the 50-over ODI format by hosting a successful World Cup - the third in the region - that drew large crowds and is set for a grand finale with two of regional heavyweights fighting it out for glory here Saturday.

As sub-continental neighbours India and Sri Lanka battle it out Saturday at the revamped Wankhede Stadium looking for their second title win, they bring a fitting climax to 43 days of riveting on-field action spread over 13 venues across three countries. The biggest gainer is the game and the World Cup itself.

Three of the four semifinalists - India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - were from the sub-continent, with New Zealand being the only outsiders. India and Sri Lanka then marched to the final, making it a first-ever sub-continental affair.

In contrast, four time winners Australia - who had emerged champions in three successive editions of the tourney - saw their reign end as they fell by the wayside in the quarterfinals, bowing to the might of India.

Faced with what once seemed like a formidable challenge from the Twenty20 version that provides a heady brew of quickfire cricketing action and entertainment, the 2011 World Cup has seen huge spectator support at all the stadia.

The abiding image of the tournament would be the delirious scenes of crowds partying through the night on the streets or numbed by shock in tune with the performance of the sub-continental teams. Cricket lovers, young and old, have filled the stands, and the frames of largely vacant stands in the previous edition of the tourney four yeas back in the Caribbean seem hard to believe.

There was such craze among fans for home team matches that police had to resort to baton charges at Bangalore and Nagpur. There were similar scenes in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which was hosting the mega-event for the second time, where fans jostled to grab a ticket to see their home team playing.

The tenth edition of cricket’s quadrennial showpiece, featuring 14 teams and 49 matches — 29 in India, a dozen in Sri Lanka and eight in Bangladesh - could have been a logistical nightmare, considering the vast distances between the venues and the gruelling travelling that was needed.

But instead, everything was put together neatly, proving yet again that the home of the game lies in the sub-continent.

Security, another issue which generated concern following reported threats from militant groups,, was at times stifling. But except for the one incident of the pebbles cast at the West Indies team bus in Dhaka after Bangladesh were shot out for 58, there were no glitches.

On the technical side, the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) has cut down umpiring errors, though some officials feel that the technology has to be fool-proof to inspire confidence among the players.

Some of the umpires, who officiated in the tournament have suggested that one way to tighten up things would be to use hot-spot cameras to make the system near-perfect.

The batting powerplay has been another mystery which none of the teams have been able to completely unravel. They have lost wickets and thrown away matches and as the days went by, the powerplay seemed more a potent weapon in the hands of the bowling side.

India lost the script by surrendering wickets against South Africa during that phase in a group game; England lost key batsmen one after another to lose the plot opposite India in the thrilling Bangalore tie.

The sub-continent’s tradition of batting friendly wickets was also reversed. Many of the tracks were two-paced and had uneven bounce, that challenged batsmen and spinners had a ball on the slow turners.

While the triumph of slow bowlers was predicted by experts in the run up to the tournament, the success of leg spinners Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi and South Africa’s Imran Tahir bodes well for the future of the game.

The pacers also had their share of luck, with the likes of Zaheer Khan (19) and New Zealand’s Tim Southee (18) among top wicket-takers. Taking the cricket pundits by surprise, South Africa - a side known for their awesome pace battery - deployed three spinners, while Bangladesh bowled around 40 overs of spin match after match till they bowed out in the group stage.

The South Africans looked impressive in the group matches, winning five of their six games, but failed to deliver in the crunch tie against New Zealand. The Proteas enforced their tag of chokers as their batting collapsed and went out of reckoning in the quarter final.

As the tournament comes to an end, it leaves behind refurbished venues with top class infrastructure including newly laid grounds and pitches, comfortable viewing arrangements for spectactors as also first grade practice turfs that is certain to give a further boost to the game in the region.

As International Cricket Council president Sharad Pawar put it, “the sub-continental nations will benefit from the infrastructure.”

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